Sermon for the Meeting of the Lord (2015)
Today’s feast is called the Meeting of the Lord because it refers to the meeting between the Righteous Simeon and Our Saviour.
According to ancient tradition, Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would live until he saw the words of Isaiah the Prophet fulfilled, “A Virgin will conceive and bear a son and His name shall be called Emmanuel”. So Simeon waited and he waited a long time. According to tradition he was an old man, a very old man, who had grown old while waiting for The Saviour.
Today’s feast is the fulfillment of what Simeon had been waiting for. And when the aged Simeon sees the holy infant, he recognizes Him and crys out: “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy words, for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel”.
Have you ever waited for someone, for someone that you thought was very important? To wait for this important person means to be totally attentive, to be watching with fixed attention, to be listening carefully for any sound of the person, to even ask others what they might possibly know about the one for whom we wait. Any news about him. To be present to the moment so that we don’t accidentally miss something, some sign of His coming.
In the small towns along the coast line of New England, are often seen on the older homes, what is called “the widow’s watch”. It’s a very small room perched like a tower on the roof of the home with one large window facing the ocean. The small room is just big enough for a small chair and table. And here the wife waits for her beloved to return from his voyage on the sea.
These men were ocean fishermen and were often out to sea for months at a time. The ocean was a treacherous place to be. There were no satellites to predict the weather, no radar, no communications at all. Often, being a fisherman on the open seas was a dangerous business and many of these men did not return.
So, their wives would sit in the widow’s watch while their men were off at sea. Their eyes were fixed on the horizon, watching for any sight of their beloved’s ship. And thus they sat for hours and days and weeks and months. Waiting, watching, patiently, silently … waiting. They read their Bible, sang hymns and knitted. But their eyes constantly looked up to the sea, to the horizon for any sign of their beloved.
My dear fathers and brothers and all of our dear guests, we are watchers and like Simeon, we wait. We are the Orthodox Christians, keepers of The Faith, waiting for our beloved Bridegroom to come to us.
And how do we wait? What does it mean to be waiting for the Lord?
Perhaps the easiest temptation is to think that to wait for God means to wait for Him to act outside of me, in some sort of dramatic way, and sometimes this can be what happens. But most often it means that God chooses to act within me and through me. Often, waiting for God to act is not a miraculous manifestation of His power outside of me but becoming aware of His miraculous action taking place within me. Recognizing His tangible, real and powerful presence within me.
Waiting for the Lord also means recognizing His presence in every situation of our life. There are no accidents. God is not present only in those wonderful moments of clarity and beauty but during times of trial and darkness, even persecution. How can we dare to think that God had abandoned the martyrs as they were torn apart by the lions or beheaded by Moslems. He arranges all things for our salvation and the salvation of others. Even what appears to be utter failure in the eyes of the world, can in reality be triumphant for those seeking God.
If our eyes, our spiritual eyes are truly open then as we wait for the Lord, we will see things as they really are. We will see His presence in every moment of our lives, whether it is prosperity or poverty, exaltation or humiliation, darkness or light.
The widow watches on sunny days and cloudy days. She is at her post keeping vigil in the darkest night and the greatest storm.
Waiting for God means to give all attention to Him; to be focused on Christ no matter what the circumstances. To be attentive to every word He has spoken, to every example He has given in the lives of His saints. To be attentive to all the signs of His presence in our own lives and those around us. To see everything as it really is. To see God’s presence in every person and every situation.
And how do we do this. First and fundamentally it is through prayer. We see and encounter God in both liturgical and private prayer. For us modern men and women, perhaps this is the most difficult challenge. Unlike the early New England women waiting and watching patiently in their widow’s watches, and certainly unlike our monastic fathers in the desert, we are an inattentive and impatient people. We modern men and women are a damaged people, damaged by a society that fundamentally lives without any regard for God and eternal life. We have been trained to look only for satisfaction and to expect it immediately.
We modern Americans have not been taught how to wait, how to be patient, how to be silent. So what do we do, we damaged people? We wait, we wait in our own unique damaged ways and the Lord who is merciful, sees our efforts and hears our cry and comes to us with his grace and strength and power. And then lifts us up and by His grace we slowly and gradually learn how to wait.
In the powerful story of the Prodigal Son. It is the Father who has been waiting for his prodigal son to return. And in the Gospel it says that the son just turned towards his father, he just begins to return and what does the father do? He runs towards him and embraces him and puts rings on his fingers and dresses him in fine clothes and kills the fatted calf. All this because his son who had been unfaithful to him and squandered all his inheritance decided to return to him.
This is what God, our loving Father does when we make the slightest effort to turn towards Him.
What could be better or sweeter in this life than to wait on the Lord. We put forth the slightest, feeble effort and he runs towards us and embraces us and reveals Himself to us.
My dear brother and sisters, do not be discouraged by your weaknesses. Do not delay because of your sins. Just turn towards God with whatever strength you can muster, try with all your might to be attentive to Him, wait on the Lord and He will indeed reveal Himself to you.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
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